In the early 1950s none of the three large American manufacturers had a sportscar in their line-up. This segment was dominated by the British Jaguar s and MGs. In 1953 General Motors made a bold move with the introduction of the Corvette, which can be considered America’s first sportscar. Ford kept a close eye on the sales figures of the two-seater Chevrolet and launched their answer, the Thunderbird, in 1955. Although the two were similar, the Ford T-Bird was more luxurious.
After three years, the two-seater Thunderbird was no more and replaced by a four-seater version. Chevrolet continued the production of the Corvette, which was gradually growing out to be a big hit. It was another Chevrolet’s sales success that would spark the development of a second two-seater Ford. Launched in 1962, the Chevrolet Corvair Monza proved that there was a big market for affordable sportscars in North America.
In 1960 Lee Iacocca was appointed Ford Division General Manager at age 35. He set out to give Ford a more sportive image, starting with re-entering NASCAR, and creating the Futura Sprint by adding a V8 to the Falcon line-up. This big project was a relatively affordable sports-car, at nearly half the price of the Corvette. The first exposure of this new two-seater came in the form of the Mustang I concept first shown at the 1962 US Grand Prix.
Equipped with a mid-mounted V4 engine and all-round independent suspension, the Mustang I was a revolutionary vehicle for Ford, however it proved to be too much of an exotic to fit Iacocca’s new product vision. In 1963 the Mustang II concept was introduced, again at the US Grand Prix. To maintain a manageable price, many Falcon parts and a more conventional front engine, live axle were incorporated.
On April 17, 1964, the production version of the Mustang was introduced. Many of the Mustang II concept’s styling cues found their way on the production car, most notably the triple row rear taillights. A six cylinder and two eight cylinder engines were available at the launch, which could be combined with various equipment packages. Coupe, convertible and 2+2 fastback were the three available body-types.
A fully ’specced’ Mustang retailed at less than $3,000, compared to over $4,000 for a Corvette. The Mustang proved to be an immediate hit, selling over 500,000 examples in the first year. In the following years various revisions were made to the engines, options and body styles, but it wasn’t until 1974 when a second Mustang series was introduced. Today the first series Mustang is considered an icon and one of America’s most treasured classics.
Californian racing-legend Caroll Shelby had already had incredible success with Ford’s V8 engines in his Cobras when he offered the company to modify their Mustang to beat the then unbeatable Corvettes. Ford happily accepted and the result was the Shelby Mustang GT350, which used the same engine as found in the Cobra 289. Livered in the American racing colours of white with two blue stripes, they were raced with a lot of success in both American and European events.
For 1967 the Mustang bodystyle was altered and Shelby added a new model to his line-up; the GT500. It featured a 428 cid engine, pumping out well over 350 bhp. Where the early Shelby Mustangs were very competition oriented, the 1967 and 1968 cars were more of a combination between performance and luxury. At the end of 1968 a more powerful GT500 KR (King of the Road) was launched, which featured the 428 Cobra Jet engine. Production of the Shelby Mustangs ceased at the end of 1969, when Ford’s own high performance had mostly taken over.